Monday, April 16, 2007

more El Duque

Twice now, I have made it into the bar near where I work with the Mets trailing by one, and gotten to watch the decisive inning. I liked the first time, last Monday, a lot better: the Mets put up seven runs to take the lead for last time. On Saturday, I arrived in time to watch El Duque’s nightmare inning, where he gave up two home runs, and than hit the pitcher and was ejected.

It was worth watching, actually, if only to see the generally calm Hernandez franticly arguing his ejection, and being restrained by Willie Randolph. El Duque’s complaint was that he had unintentionally hit the pitcher and was not retaliating for the home run; I suppose that it does him credit that he was mortified that his action was interpreted as malicious. On the other hand, El Duque had just hit the pitcher and given up two homers, and it is extremely hard to think that it would have been in anyone’s interest for him to stay in the game.

It raises some interesting questions about the psychology of athletes, particularly pitchers in intense situations. If you had been allowed to go onto the diamond and ask him, I am sure that El Duque would have told you with complete confidence that he knew what the problem was with his delivery, was not tired, felt fine, and was going to retire the next four batters who faced him, some of them on strike-outs. Everyone else watching the game, and a whole bunch of people listening to it on the radio, knew perfectly well that El Duque no longer had his stuff that outing and that there was no sane reason for him to stay in the game and keep on giving out hits to what might be one of the worst teams in the history of baseball- but El Duque, for all his experience, believed firmly that his ejection was an injustice and that, if given the ball, he would perform.

That level of confidence, and that ability to divorce one’s self from certain aspects of reality, to refuse to learn from immediate experiences, is essential to maintaining the mindset that can throw strikes with runners on base and the game on the line. If El Duque did not believe that he could retire every batter, he probably would not be able to retire any batters. Keeping track of reality, making adjustments to compensate for failings is why managers have jobs- perhaps the most important aspect of the managerial role is that they accept the burden of reality, so that every player is free to believe that they are either Babe Ruth, or Cy Young.

El Duque can be forgiven for thinking that he was in no trouble and was fit to stay in the game; he might even have been right. It is interesting, though, to wonder how far this mindset it extends, and to think about lesser players, whose contracts, salaries and playing time would give the lie to their excellence. Does Jose Lima believe that every pitch he throws is going to be a strike? Does he feel that every hit is a fluke, and that it is only a matter of time in each outing before he finds the adjustment that he needs and becomes un-hittable?

It’s raining in New York right now, but I don’t care- I just hope that it clears up in Philadelphia by the afternoon.

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